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Commentary: Use open space to clean up Banning Ranch

June 28, 2012

Re. "Planning Commission OKs Banning Ranch plans," (June 21):

Mike Reicher's article refers to a Newport Beach city staff report that has several inaccuracies. Of greatest concern is the report's claim that open space remediation of Banning Ranch would cost the taxpayers $30 million. This is simply not true.

The cost would be a fraction of the cost for residential/commercial remediation. The cost to the developer, Newport Banning Ranch LLC, is $30 million to $60 million. Open space costs would be a tenth of that or less. With open space remediation, there is no requirement to re-abandon several hundred oil wells at a cost of $80,000 to $150,000 per well. Nor is it necessary to remediate nearly 3 million cubic yards of contaminated soil through years of the exorbitantly expensive land-farming that is required of the developer.

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The petroleum hydrocarbon cleanup criteria for non-residential (open space) remediation, based on the Orange County Health Care Agency's requirements, is 1,000 to 20,000 ppm (parts per million). The residential requirement is 100 ppm. Open space remediation is not held to the rigid standards of residential remediation because there is no for-profit motive to build homes or to build any other enclosed structures on an operational oil field — and in some cases on top of what are mapped as both active and abandoned wells.

Banning Ranch is already self-remediating through a process called phytoremediation. As it turns out, plants have the miraculous ability to clean up the contamination caused by man, no matter how deadly, and the toxic wastes created by oil production are deadly to humans.

With open space use, it won't be necessary to excavate massive amounts of contaminated soil, exposing the public to health and safety hazards. Nor will it be necessary to alter or eliminate any natural land forms, grade natural bluffs and arroyos or make cuts as deep as 25 feet, all of which the developers plan to do, according to their environmental impact report. In other words, with open space use it won't be necessary to destroy the land before it can be remediated and developed.

Open space remediation is the ideal solution for Banning Ranch. It would utilize native plants and natural forms of bio remediation to restore, preserve and protect virtually all of the land as it now exists, a rare and unique ecosystem. As a nature preserve and park with coastal trails, picnic areas and even an active sports component, Banning would give the public all the benefits the developers are offering with none of the negative impacts.

SUZANNE FORSER lives in Newport Beach.

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